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Marcus Hedahl

Abstract

In the last decade, there has been a seismic shift in debates about the ethics of war, a shift that challenges the foundational assumptions of the just war tradition. In the revisionist project responsible for this shift, the key question becomes whether an agent, through their actions, is liable to the use of deadly force. More recently, this revisionist project has been modestly expanded, from considering how killing others could make an agent liable to the use of defensive force to considering how saving or not saving others could do so as well. In this paper, I consider how analyzing questions of liability in this new, expanded domain can highlight important distinctions that we may miss when we consider the same kinds of actions (i.e., killings) time and time again in considerations of self-defense and war. Morally salient elements that would normally be concealed can be revealed, and we can use that insight to consider the paradigmatic case of killing anew. It turns out that a more nuanced understanding of rights – the moral element that is meant to the centerpiece of the revisionist project – can be used to demonstrate a serious limitation for both revisionism and the just war tradition it seeks to replace. One can hold onto one of core aims of the revisionist project, its weary skepticism of the blank pass given by traditional just war theorists to those who fight unjust ad bellum wars, while maintaining that a fuller appreciation of the moral complexities of rights often strengthens, rather than undermines, many of the traditional in bello rules.

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